Never Stop Smiling

How Kumiko Miyake refused to let illness rob her of hope.

Family—Kumiko Miyake (front) with her husband, Stan; daughter Mikki (far left) and her partner, Sara; and daughter Naomi (far right) and her fiancé, Kurt. Through facing an incurable illness, Rumiko learns the power of living with unbridled hope. Photo: Laura Hamm.

by Kumiko Miyake

When I was in junior high school, I prayed to the Gohonzon to advance worldwide kosen-rufu in America. That dream began to manifest when, in 1982, I supported SGI-USA members who were visiting Japan for a training course. There, I met a wonderful man named Stan. We exchanged letters for a year and decided to get married. On the day of my wedding, SGI President Ikeda sent me a poem: “Abundant happiness / Kumiko, cherry blossom / At Miyake Castle.” On the side, he inscribed, “Health first.”

Sensei’s encouragement would carry me through a series of setbacks once I moved to Chicago in 1983. I had three miscarriages before giving birth to a daughter Naomi and second daughter, Mikki, just five years later. Three years after Mikki was born, I learned I had IgA nephropathy, a serious kidney disease. Doctors told me that with no cure, I would need dialysis and a kidney transplant.

I wasn’t ready to accept this as my reality, so I continued working full time, taking care of my family and participating in SGI activities, almost as if nothing had changed.

Finally, three years after my diagnosis, I went in for my first dialysis treatment. For many years, I encouraged the people around me to do their human revolution to overcome their negativity. Now that it was time for me to do so, I didn’t believe I had the will or strength to overcome my circumstances. I was too angry and was wallowing in self-pity.

I decided that no matter what happened, I would never give up hope.

My husband chanted abundantly each day for my recovery, and so I began dragging myself in front of the Gohonzon to chant, too. I read Nichiren Daishonin’s letter to the parents of a sick child “Reply to Kyo’o” a thousand times and fought to “believe in the Gohonzon with my whole heart,” as Nichiren urges us to do (see The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 412).

As I prayed, I realized that the problem wasn’t my illness, but that I was letting it rob me of my hope—that I was sick at heart. To defeat this true enemy, I decided that no matter what happened, I would never give up hope. As long I’m smiling, I decided, I’m winning. I also began chanting to understand the Buddhist teaching of changing karma into mission. I soon felt that I chose to have this problem in this lifetime, so that I could encourage my family and fellow members with my victory.

Though I continued dialysis, I felt joyful and even laughed during my treatments. I also brought my daughters to the hospital with me, so I could show them that, even in great pain, I would never be defeated.

I eventually underwent a transplant, but my new kidney wouldn’t function properly. My doctor said the kidney was bad and that I would need a new one within a month. I never wanted to go on dialysis again and chanted for a breakthrough. That new kidney ended up lasting 10 years.

In 2010, Naomi, who was 26, asked if she could give me one of her kidneys. I had mixed feelings at first, but the doctor said she would be fine. Just as we were about to go forward with it, we learned of an antibody in Naomi’s system that would attack my body. The surgery was called off.

I wrote to Sensei and shared with him my determination to become completely healthy. I dreamed of reporting to him by the end of the year that I was victorious.

That fall, we found an incredible program at a nearby hospital that would allow Naomi to donate her kidney and, in return, I would be given another kidney that matched me perfectly.

As I prepped for the transplant, my doctor discovered I had breast cancer. Do I have to deal with this, too? I thought. As I continued to chant, I realized how fortunate I was that the doctors caught my cancer at such an early stage. In December, my cancer was completely removed. Soon after, my daughter and I had the kidney transplant surgeries, which were complete successes.

Five years have passed, and I remain perfectly healthy. Last year, my family went to the Hall of the Great Vow for Kosen-rufu together. Naomi is now engaged to the perfect person for her, Kurt, and will get married in May. Mikki also has a wonderful partner, Sara, whom we are very fond of. In 2015, both my husband and I were able to help two young people receive the Gohonzon!

As the recently appointed Central Territory Women’s Leader, I am determined to spread happiness and victory to the women in Central Territory together with Sensei. I want to help create a warm, humanistic organization that fosters many youth toward the 100th anniversary of Soka Gakkai in 2030, as I continue to challenge my life, always smiling, always filled with hope.